Matthew 25: 1-13
Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost
November 9, 2014
There is a profound and valuable Biblical principal at work in this simple incident. One of the clearest statements of this principal is found in John's Gospel -- the "Resurrection" Gospel. John's Gospel divides into two parts. In the first part, John builds the story of Jesus' public ministry around resurrection signs. The very first of these signs occurs when Jesus changes water into wine at the marriage feast in Cana. The miraculous transformation of water into wine was a sign of God working in our lives to transform sorrow into joy, despair into hope, death into life. Again and again in John's first eleven chapters we find references to resurrection. The climax comes in the eleventh chapter with still another great resurrection sign: the raising of Lazarus from the dead. In the midst of this episode Jesus says, "I am the Resurrection." Then there is a change: from chapter twelve on, the Apostle John tells the story of Jesus' own death and Resurrection. Set in between these two sections of the Gospel, like a diamond in a beautiful setting, there is a saying of Jesus taken from the world of nature. It reads, "Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat. But if it dies, it produces much fruit" (Jn. 12:24). All of nature witnesses to the Divinely created cycle of death and rebirth. And in His own death and Resurrection, Jesus witnesses to the cycle's presence in our own human condition.
What are the areas in your life where some dying is taking place? The woman who weeped broken-heartedly each time she moved to a new house is one good example. It could be the aging process in which certain feelings, strengths and abilities are dying. It could be the breaking off of a relationship. It could be some situation at work or in the neighborhood. Whatever and wherever it is, get in touch with it now and begin to understand what Jesus is saying to you: that it is only through the dying that new life can come to you. "Unless a grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat. But if it dies, it produces much fruit." As we try to identify with this process in our daily lives, we need to understand the necessity of relinquishing that which is dying or has died.
In Charles Dickens' "Great Expectations," a young woman is left standing at the altar by her bridegroom who simply doesn't show up for the marriage ceremony and is never heard from again. And for the rest of her long life, that woman continues to wear her wedding gown. Because she refuses to relinquish and let go, for the rest of her life she is unable to accept the gift of rebirth God was offering her.
Celebrated actress, Helen Hayes, said that the most painful period of her life came after her nineteen-year-old daughter died of polio. She said that gathering up the fragments of her life and going forward was the most painful thing she ever did. But she worked her way through it, resumed her acting career and did wonderful things for the fight against polio. Doctor Jonas Salk once said to her, "You are the most powerful weapon I have in the battle against this disease." Several years later, Miss Hayes gathered all of her possessions (which filled a very large house), sold them at public auction and gave the money to charity. When she was asked about it, she said, "I bid farewell to things so that I will be unencumbered as I move into the future." Relinquishment! Unencumbered! Into the future! Death and rebirth!
The concert violinist, Mischa Elman, made his debut when he was twelve-years-old. At age seventy-two, he was invited to give a concert in Berlin. This excited him because he was to play in the same place that he had made his debut. After the concert, he said, "When I made my debut as a twelve-year-old people were saying, "Isn't he wonderful for his age! Now they are saying the same thing." Whether you are twelve or seventy-two, if people can say about you, "Isn't he wonderful for his age" or "Isn't she wonderful for her age," you are probably in touch, at a deep level, with the cycle of death and rebirth.
On the level of the final physical death of our body, such death is not, of course, our natural friend. It is our natural enemy. The Apostle Paul speaks of death as the final enemy. No matter what else we overcome, our days are numbered. Rich and poor, celebrated and obscure, there are no exceptions. Death will claim and overcome all. And yet, in being overcome, we overcome. We have only to learn what it is to live by the power of the Risen Lord to be able to say with Paul, "O death, where is your victory ... Thanks be to the God who gives us victory in the Lord Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 15:55,57). Such hope is not in vain -- not if Christ is Lord!
The God of love and mercy is now actively overcoming. Prophets of doom may survey the human condition and cry out in horror at death's reality. But in union with faithful Christians of all times we can continue our journey of hope toward the victory of life in the blessed end-time.
Jesus' parable in today's Gospel Lesson speaks of the end-time in terms of anticipating the coming of the bridegroom to his wedding banquet. Jesus uses this imagery to symbolize the coming of the eternal celebration of human beings who are forever friends. This is our vision of rebirth into the "new heavens and the new earth" when "the former heavens and the former earth have passed away" (Rev. 21:1). "Keep awake therefoe," Jesus advises, "for you know neither the day nor the hour" that the bridegroom will come and the celebration will begin.
Our lamps of witness are filled with the oil of hope. Let the word go out: In the midst of life we are in death. But, echoed by men and angels, proclaimed by the trumpet's blast, sealed by the blood of martyrs, and secured by the Savior's promise is this sure word of hope: In the midst of death we are in life!
Someone wrote a letter to columnist Ann Landers asking why the TV commercials for blue jeans were putting such great emphasis on the shape of people's rear anatomy. Ann Landers replied, "I don't have the slightest idea what is causing the shift from top to bottom, but you're right; it's a definite trend. Maybe it means the world is coming to an end."
Yes, the world as we know it is coming to an end, obviously. Yes, the days of all of us are numbered. But thanks be to God who gives us victory in the Lord Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God for gracing our human condition with the glorious cycle of death-and-rebirth!